Internet porn reduces rape?

An article in Slate concedes that the increase in the use of internet porn has a direct correlation to a decrease in rape. He also contends that violent movies decrease violent behaviors and crimes. Now theoretically, this is plausible, but his logical leaps are a little grandiose.
Have at it.

Does pornography breed rape? Do violent movies breed violent crime? Quite the opposite, it seems.
First, porn. What happens when more people view more of it? The rise of the Internet offers a gigantic natural experiment. Better yet, because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states, it offers 50 natural experiments.
The bottom line on these experiments is, “More Net access, less rape.” A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.

This may very well be true, but I would be interested in seeing some other factors that may be involved here, like law/policy, work by anti-rape activists, etc. Furthermore, whether this decreases rape or not, does the use of internet pornography change the culture of rape, or does it justify sexual fetishization to an even greater degree. Don’t get me wrong, the less rapes the better, but is this a solution?
The author (Landsburg) continues admitting that correlation may not be causation.

OK, so we can at least tentatively conclude that Net access reduces rape. But that’s a far cry from proving that porn access reduces rape. Maybe rape is down because the rapists are all indoors reading Slate or vandalizing Wikipedia. But professor Kendall points out that there is no similar effect of Internet access on homicide. It’s hard to see how Wikipedia can deter rape without deterring other violent crimes at the same time. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how porn might serve as a substitute for rape.

The article also discusses violent images and violent crime, one theory being if violent criminals are watching a movie, then they are not outside committing a crime.
Thoughts?

and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

73 Comments

  1. tink
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Yes, EG – EXACTLY! Though in fewer words. I never could get the hang of “concise.” : )

  2. Paul G. Brown
    Posted November 1, 2006 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    EJ -
    It’s my understanding that a) it occurs in species where female fertility is difficult to determine, and b) that a naive evolutionary explaination is by no means a complete explaination.
    Human–and animal–behavior is really complex. I’m not sure anything can be reduced to a single causation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t identify distinct causes of a certain behavior.

  3. Posted November 1, 2006 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Alon, you show me ONE remotely reputable study within the past ten years where a boy was _forced_ to do anything and my hat is off to you.
    Ah, it wasn’t forced, and it wasn’t in the last ten years. The first major porn-rape study goes back to, I think, the early 70s, and had test subjects who were randomly divided into two groups, of which only one was exposed to porn.
    In fact, its being purely voluntary is what made it shoddy: the older, more settled men opted out after being told they’d be exposed to porn, so the test group was already skewed toward a more aggressive demographic. Naturally, it concluded that porn made men more likely to rape (and was then cited as an argument for censorship).

  4. Posted November 2, 2006 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    EJ, although many rapes involve women not capable of reproducing, most don’t. Rape rates are highest in the 16-25 group. In the US the sexual assault rate is something like 200-250/100,000 in the 16-25 bracket, dropping to 10-70/100,000 in older age brackets (numbers quoted from memory).
    If I remember correctly, the ratio of sexual assault rates of 50+ women to those of 16-25 women in the US is lower than the ratio of male to female sexual assaults.
    On the other hand, there are other reasons why the sociobiological theory of rape is false. For a start, humans’ breeding strategy is to invest in a few offspring rather than spawn many. Besides, rape rates in modern societies are so variable that saying “it’s because of biology” is entirely trivial. Yes, there has to be some biological basis, in the same manner there’s a subatomic basis to everything. But it doesn’t explain any of the variation in rape rates.

  5. sojourner
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    “It’s my understanding that a) it occurs in species where female fertility is difficult to determine”
    Paul, What species are those? I remeber reading in Susan Brownmiller’s book that the only other species that rapes is some kind of rat.

  6. Posted November 2, 2006 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Might I suggest that finding “the” reason for rape is a wild goose chase? And, also, that statements of the form “rape is about X” (and its companion statement “rape is not about X”) are going to suffer from the problem that different rapists rape for different reasons?
    The original study showed a significant negative correlation between internet access and rape convictions, specifically among males aged 15-19.
    I’d like to posit one possible scenario: internet access reduces rapes by a certain type of rapist (let’s say, “Type Q”), and Q-type rapists account for most rapes committed by men in the 15-19 age bracket. I’d be interested in knowing if the “available internet access reduces rape convictions” effect was as strongly pronounced in different age groups; I strongly suspect not.
    I also wonder about the underlying “the internet is for porn” assumption; unfortunately, I have no idea how we would measure which kind of content it is on the ‘net that accounts for the “reduction in rape convictions” effect.

  7. Paul G. Brown
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Alon -
    I think you’re close to the money, only I would add that individuals within a species typically exhibit a variety of adaptive strategies: Aldabra Tortoises being the best known. And look – social organization is another (more) widely observed phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Learning how we can best structure our society–does porn reduce rapes and if so how?–seems like a good thing to be doing.
    sojourner -
    I read Barash and Lipton, particularly the parts about what a rigorous study of paternity in primate troops reveals. The ‘just the facts’ part of that book are interesting. The author’s search for a simple, evolutionary explaination doesn’t convince me.
    Frans de Waal’s “Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes” contrasts chimps (where it has been observed) with bonobos (where things are more complex). Further afield, folk have studied it in other mammals (dolphins) fowl (ducks) and insects (flies). Please note I’ve not read all of this material. But reputable folk like de Waal, for example, cites the studies. A little googling dug up one or two. There’s even a youtube video involving ducks.
    And googling ‘duck rape’ has taken me so far out of my area of expertise (not to mention personal comfort zone) that I think it’s time for me to just STFU.

  8. Paul G. Brown
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Alon -
    I think you’re close to the money, only I would add that individuals within a species typically exhibit a variety of adaptive strategies: Aldabra Tortoises being the best known. And look – social organization is another (more) widely observed phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Learning how we can best structure our society–does porn reduce rapes and if so how?–seems like a good thing to be doing.
    sojourner -
    I read Barash and Lipton, particularly the parts about what a rigorous study of paternity in primate troops reveals. The ‘just the facts’ part of that book are interesting. The author’s search for a simple, evolutionary explaination doesn’t convince me.
    Frans de Waal’s “Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes” contrasts chimps (where it has been observed) with bonobos (where things are more complex). Further afield, folk have studied it in other mammals (dolphins) fowl (ducks) and insects (flies). Please note I’ve not read all of this material. But reputable folk like de Waal, for example, cites the studies. A little googling dug up one or two. There’s even a youtube video involving ducks.
    And googling ‘duck rape’ has taken me so far out of

  9. Posted November 2, 2006 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Paul, What species are those? I remeber reading in Susan Brownmiller’s book that the only other species that rapes is some kind of rat.
    I read on Pharyngula that in one insect species, after sex the male does something that seals the female’s vagina so that no other male can impregnate her. So males develop various strategies to get around the seal, such as impaling another copulating male to infect its bloodstream with the impaler’s sperm, giving it a chance to impregnate the female.
    In addition, Wikipedia says that male dolphins sometimes stalk female dolphins, following them around for weeks until they become sexually receptive.

  10. sojourner
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, but stalking isn’t rape. (I have seen a very horny male dog follow a female dog around as well). And that insect, I didn’t understand why that was rape at all, but it sounds pretty ghastly.
    You know what? I read that there are some species of insects where the female eats the male after mating. Since we are so compelled to follow other species’ behavior I am just gonna start practicing that from now on.

  11. EG
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Beat me to it, sojourner! Insects are lousy stand-ins for human beings. They’re not even mammals. I doubt they have anything that we could call “consent.” From which it follows that they can’t have anything we could call rape.

  12. Paul G. Brown
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    sojourner -
    Sorry about this. I have a long(ish) reply to your question being veted by Feministing’s crack staff. It contained a lot of links, and I fear the blog machinery may be interpreting it as spam. :-(
    In short, chimps, dolphins and ducks are all species where I could quickly find well documented examples of ‘coercive or forced intercourse’ in the wild. A bit of googling will lead you to the scientific literature. My point of departure was Frans de Waal’s book, and the rather troublesome Barash and Lipton book. (Their section on the evidence of actual paternity tests in primates is REALLY interesting.)
    And please! The fact that something HAS been observed doesn’t make it right! Even the animals ‘know’ this. In primates and dolphins, for example, you see social structures developing which counteract the behavior.
    Lastly, in case my comment doesn’t get by, I will repeat the joke. Googling “duck rape” as taken me so far out of my field of expertise, and my comfort zone, that I think it’s time for me to STFU.

  13. tink
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Ah, we are back to animal behavior! Yes, there is coercive sexual behavior in MANY species, but as I indicated earlier, these can often be identified as “reproductive strategies.” Rape, not so. It is fallacious to call what these animals do “rape.” The behavior of other animals is NOT inherently correlary with human behavior. You wouldn’t cite what a bird does to explain what a horse does. There is no sound scientific basis for correlating human rape w/ coercive sexual behavior in fish, dolpins, rats, dogs…
    As for not examining the REASON for rape. Well, I agree there are many “reasons” but they do deserve some examination. The behavior of a brutal psychopath won’t change, but if we can get rid of male entitlement, other kinds of rapists may STOP. For instance, she’s drunk, she’s “easy,” she all ready slept with me, she fell asleep at my house, she “made” me want her – all these “reasons” go away.

  14. Paul G. Brown
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    tink -
    Be very, very careful.
    “The behavior of other animals is NOT inherently correlary with human behavior.”
    What is so special about homo sapiens that makes them unique in all of biology?
    Eschew speciesism. We’re monkeys, mammals, vertebrates. That isn’t all we are. And yes – dissolving the environment of male entitlement is a good thing (and not merely as measured by the rape stats).
    But the belief we are ‘special’ is … silly.

  15. Bearcat
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Paul, where were you a week ago when I was debating the same thing?
    Anyway, tink, you do cite what one animal does to elucidate what another does. There is a concept called convergent evolution, in which different species evolve similar strategies despite a lack of common ancestry.
    Also, several of you have made some very stupid statements:
    “humans’ breeding strategy is to invest in a few offspring rather than spawn many” This is the strategy used by most females. It is actually more advantageous for men to “spread their seed” since they don’t have to spend enormous amounts of energy on their offspring.
    “many rapes involve women not capable of reproducing” Not in the least bit true. Most rape victims are women between 16 and 30, during which time they tend to be most fertile.
    “If rape were about sex, you’d see women raping men in equal numbers as men raping women.” Oh brother. Males and females have different sexual strategies. Since a woman cannot safely have a child more than once every three years without having significant support from a spouse, extended family, etc. Read up on sexual selection. Darwin’s a good place to start.
    Oh yes, I do have to agree with the majority on one point. Porn (and sex, for that matter) can be addictive and people can develop a tolerance. I’m not aware of any studies (perhaps someone else knows of some), but since orgasm is influenced by prolactin and dopamine, and it is possible to develop tolerance to both, you certainly should be able develop a tolerance.

  16. tink
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Paul G. Brown, you miss my point. Would you say the behavior of a bear is correlary to the behavior of a frog? No, you would not. It is PRECISELY because we think we are so special that we like to believe the behavior of other animals is correlary to ours. This is the ultimate in species-ism.
    Anthropomorphism and “reverse anthropomorphism” are not science nor, in any way, respectful of other species. Chimps use tools, and clans wage “war” on other clans. Some sub-species of chimps appear to be “matriarchal.” Orangutans have gentle non-reproductive, front-facing sex. What does this tell us about humans? Diddly. It tells about chimps and orangutans. I am not saying “we are special.” I am saying that the correlation is not inherent, cannot be proved, and should not be assumed.
    Moreover, in ethology, we tend to focus on only behaviors that prove our beliefs. Studies in animal behavior are regularly used to uphold “social norms” and to call out various behaviors as “natural.” Studies that show behaviors to the contrary of social norms are widely ignored. So any attempt to make correlations, if any exist, is inherently biased, if based on current widely-accepted ethological literature. I could go on and on.
    The short version is this: just because SOME other species display forced sex does not mean that human rape is natural or correlary.
    Thanks. I’m always careful. Or was that prepared?

  17. tink
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and Bearcat, it isn’t really more advantageous for HUMAN males to “spread their seed.” This statement is based upon a widely accepted, but not necessarily accurate, model. If your off-spring don’t survive, you lose evolutionarily. The best way to make sure your off-spring survive, if you are a human male, is to stick around and help. Seriously.
    Before you blow me off, think about this. It is widely accepted that “animal behavior” and theory uphold the idea that monogamy is for the benefit of the human female. But think about it. If you want to reduce it all to animal behavior, if the human female knows of 4 males with desirable characteristics, her most advantageous act biologically would be to mate with them all. After all, she will know the offspring is hers. The only way for the male to know the offspring is his is through monogamy. Again, to assure this, he has to stick around. Monogamy therefore benefits the human male MORE than it benefits the human female.
    We aren’t, of course, all running around in the woods with our brains off. But it is worthwhile to think about what we do if we were – especially if we aren’t just swallowing the “conventional scientific wisdowm.” Until VERY recently, these sorts of studies were not being done by diverse people – because these sort of studies are inherently subjective, you have to keep in mind that the observers bias may effect the interpretations. And be very very careful in making claims of correlations.

  18. Posted November 2, 2006 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Not sure about Paul, but actually, I would say that the behavior of a bear can be used to elucidate the behavior of a frog. Both reproduce sexually, both are predators, and both catch their prey by sitting, waiting, and striking. To the extent that frogs and bears are similar, you can compare their behavior. Chimps and dolphins are much more similar to us (both genetically and in terms of evolutionary niches) than a frog to a bear, and we can draw more conclusions from the comparison more accurately.
    As for your summary, it is true that the existence of rape in other species does not prove that human rape is “natural” (I hate that word), it makes it infinitely more likely. You prove nothing by this statement.

  19. tink
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    That should have been “wisdom.” Sorry, getting tired. Nope, I have proven nothing. These things are pretty tough to prove, as there is so much subjective thought involved.

  20. tink
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and before I go – thanks Paul. I did enjoy your commentary and I know where you were coming from. Just trying to clarify.
    Bearcat – good luck.
    I have said all I have to say on this topic…for now…

  21. Paul G. Brown
    Posted November 2, 2006 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    tink -
    “Studies in animal behavior are regularly used to uphold “social norms” and to call out various behaviors as “natural.”‘
    To my mind, applying animal observations to human moral decisions is only very marginally less reasonable than using scripture as a guide.
    People are animals. Can we learn from a frog when looking at a bear? Both are eukaryotes, have oxygenated blood, are vertebrates, similar organ structure. One is an amphibian, the other a mammal.
    I propose that we can transact knowledge from one species to another to the extent that they share their biology. I mean, it’s limited, of course. Bonobos and chimps (look that up, BTW – paniscus is not a subspecies of troglodytes) are alternate lines of evolutionary descent with extraordinarily different sexual behavior.
    Back to the OP. The observation is that teenage boys with internet access are less likely to be convicted of rape. Rape is either “all about power” (Brownmiller) or else it has a complex set of causes, among which is male sexual frustration combined with social acceptance of male entitlement. Coercive sex in other species only came up as an example of a phenomenon for which the “rape is all about power” hypothesis fails to account (unless one wants to say sex is all about power).
    So – is internet porn a bad thing for 15-19 year old males? I dunno. But if it keeps ‘em away from my daughters, it can’t be all bad.
    I’ve found this discussion very interesting. Except the duck rape part. That was … disturbing.

  22. Posted November 3, 2006 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Since we are so compelled to follow other species’ behavior I am just gonna start practicing that from now on.
    I’d rather follow the behavior of the most ubiquitous and diverse group of organisms on the planet. From now on I’m going to eschew sex and reproduce by cutting myself in half. Hopefully each half will regenerate into a whole Alon.
    More seriously, I’m not suggesting animal behavior is normative. All I’m saying is that Brownmiller’s claim that only humans rape is wrong.

  23. tink
    Posted November 3, 2006 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Paul & Alon,
    Great posts! To ‘Alon,’ I agree except I think we may be remiss in using the term “rape” when talking about other species. I think it diverts us from examining ourselves.
    Yes Paul. You are right about Bonobos – my error – I have been out of the field for a loooong time. Of course, we can learn from anything, but mostly we seem to try to excuse and that’s risky as non-paternalistic interpretations of animal behaviors are rare and pretty new.
    Anyway – we have pretty well been all around that. I am also new to this sort of communication and think maybe I should bow out here – I don’t know the etiquette. Still, it’s possible that the “causes” of rape are not either/or – depending upon who’s doing it. There are creeps who assault girls and those who stop when “what the hell are you doing?” is said. Both things are rape, so….
    Plus, I don’t think the first has any species survival benefit. But we could start all over w/ that, huh?
    The teen-age boys & porn thing? Well, I do think it’s bad for boys. It may keep them inside, but I don’t want those images to part of how my little boy sees women. This could get into a whole new discussion. Maybe we’ll take that up in another thread eventually.

181 queries. 0.638 seconds